How to prevent your biases from affecting creative problem solving

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Source: @mib32 via Unsplash

I used to have a small issue with writing that turned into a big problem. A good idea would pop into my head, and I would have to do one of two of things with them:

  1. I would essentially stop everything to start developing the idea into an outline or a full-blown story
  2. I would try my best to remember but often ended up forgetting about the idea

This wasn’t such a bad idea when I had more time, but it was becoming a problem when I wanted to write more consistently. I either had to remember day-old ideas or just hope that in my allotted time, I could come up with something cool to write about.

I found a solution to this problem from the most unexpected place: my nephew. When I last visited him, he was at the age where he just learned to walk and wanted to roam everywhere.

As a result, I noticed my sister having a different interaction with her phone: she was using speech-to-text for nearly everything so that her other hand would be free just in case.

Thinking about it further, I realized that this might be a great way for me to record my ideas soon after having them.

There was one period where I found a lot of my ideas was coming from: my daily commute to work (around 45 minutes).

Rather than spending that time listening to the radio or podcasts, I realized that I could quickly use a speech-to-text app (while my eyes were on the road, honest!) to record any ideas that I could later develop into posts.

I’ve already talked about using daydreaming to improve design thinking, but I wasn’t expecting this level of success from this change. This worked well: suspiciously well. It worked well to the point where I began to question why I hadn’t thought of this before. It took me thinking about this in more depth to realize why I hadn’t thought of this before: I was biased against voice-based technology.

I don’t like voice-based interfaces. Growing up in the early days of computing, it was a gimmick: unreliable and more humorous than useful. In college, one of my friends and I once wrote a story through voice, and when we read it back I laughed so hard my stomach hurt.

With the advent of more reliable voice interfaces like Alexa, I still didn’t like it, because I thought it was an easy way to buy more stuff than you need.

As a result, I kind of biased myself away from ever considering voice-based interfaces as a solution to my problem. It took seeing it in action (and talking with another person) to see that it was useful to me.

In retrospect, I found it amusing for another reason: because I had a few bad interactions with it over a decade ago and I disagreed with a primary usage today, I was willing to completely ignore a huge field of technology for all of my solutions.

So how do you avoid letting this happen to you? By spending time thinking about possible solutions before letting real-world constraints affect you.

In my daydreaming post, I talk about how people don’t go far enough with divergent thinking, often because of constraints put on them from the start. As a result, even if you might daydream about possible ways to fix something, this solution may not even come up.

To counter this, ask yourself one question:

“Who else is having the same issue?”

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Source: Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.5

This is one of my favorite pieces of design, even if it doesn’t look like much. This sort of design was created with blind users in mind: they could use it with their canes to know when they had reached the other side of the street successfully, and where to get on to the sidewalk without tripping.

But this was useful for many other users as well.

  • Moms with strollers could identify where they could on-ramp.
  • Truck drivers with heavy pallets of stuff on a cart could get on to the sidewalk without straining themselves.
  • Bikers and other wheeled vehicles were discouraged from riding across the intersection (because of the bumps), nudging them towards dismounting and walking across.

If you’re having difficulties in coming up with solutions, think about the problem first. Chances are, there are user groups that you never would have considered that have similar problems (for different reasons).

My problem, having a way to record my thoughts when my hands are engaged, was not a unique one. Writers, moms, emergency services, pilots, security officers, and disabled people probably have faced the same problem.

See what they’re doing, and perhaps you’ll see a possible solution that you never considered.

I’d like to say that I’ve fully addressed my biases, except this is something that has been developed over a decade. I’ll be committing myself to try to learn more about the technology and how it can be used. I doubt I’ll ever become a voice UI fanatic, but perhaps I can learn to respect it for what it can do.

Like this story? This is part of a series that I am doing to try and combat my bias against voice UI. You can view the series here.

Written by

Healthcare-focused UX designer and researcher. Creator of two online courses on design communication and UX research planning: https://tinyurl.com/y5m2j42v

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